Can You Upgrade Your Dentures?
It’s easier than you think & there are many benefits
Given the choice, most of us would rather keep our own teeth for life. But sometimes our teeth have other ideas, and dentures become the healthier option. Dentures have gotten a bad rap throughout the years—and that’s not totally unjustified. In the past, dentures often looked fake, were hard to keep clean, and didn’t stay put.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case. We can now use dental implants—tiny pieces of titanium that are implanted into the jawbone—to keep dentures in place and restore a natural-tooth feel. And, dentures themselves are made to look prettier and more natural than ever. If you’ve been in traditional dentures for a while, or you’re facing the likelihood of converting to dentures for the first time, now is a great time to consider your many upgrade options. Let’s take a look.
The benefits of dental implants are plentiful
There are few scenarios in which a patient wouldn’t benefit from switching from traditional adhesive dentures to implant-supported dentures. They truly offer the best of both worlds: dentures that look like real teeth and feel like real teeth.
- Your dentures will stay put! Whether you receive a fixed implant denture or the snap-on type, implants do a much better job holding dentures secure while you eat, drink and talk.
- You’ll feel like you have natural teeth. By connecting your dentures with your jawbone, implants restore the normal sensation of pressure when you chew. Additionally, you will no longer have to balance the lower denture when you speak or eat.
- Implants help prevent jaw bone deterioration. Your bones need regular pressure placed upon them to stay strong and healthy. Because traditional dentures are disconnected from the jaw bone and do not apply pressure, one of the main complications we see with them is bone loss, which can lead to a sunken-in mouth appearance. Implants act much like natural tooth roots, relaying pressure from the denture teeth to the jawbone, which “exercises” it and stimulates healthy jawbone growth.
- The implant procedure is much easier than you think! Dental implants are tiny—about 3mm diameter and 10 to 13mm long. A skilled dental surgeon can place multiple implants directly through the gum in about 30 minutes, using local anesthesia only. At most, patients usually only need a couple of days on over-the-counter ibuprofen for comfort. Only in the cases where extensive bone grafting is needed do we get into open surgery with more recovery time, but the vast majority of denture patients don’t require this level of procedure.
What are my options for implant-supported dentures?
If you’re considering upgrading your dentures, you’ll have a few choices to make with your dentist. They will take into account your budget, what shape your current dentures are in, whether or not you want an aesthetic upgrade, and the anatomy of your jawbone. Let’s go over a few of the most common options my patients choose.
Option 1: Convert your current dentures to implant-supported with a snap-on connector.
If you currently have a traditional denture, this is by far the most affordable upgrade you can make, and it’ll make a world of difference in terms of comfort and security. For this procedure, we place two implants in the arch. Snap fasteners are placed in the denture apparatus, so you can then snap it onto the arch rather than balance or use an adhesive.
Pros to this approach:
- The most affordable implant denture option
- You don’t have to wait for new dentures to be made
- Dramatically increases stability and function
- You can remove your dentures for cleaning
- Having only two implants per arch limits preservation of jawbone strength
- Not an option for patients with significant jawbone deterioration
- Another procedure will be needed if an implant fails
- Cost will increase if your denture is in disrepair and you need a new one made
Consider it if: you are looking for the most economical way to get into an implant-supported denture, and you like your current dentures.
Option 2: “All-on-four” fixed implant-supported dentures
The “All on four” approach involves four implants in the arch, to which the dentures are fixed permanently. This is a very popular option for my Alpharetta denture patients, and offers a good step up from the snap-on type in terms of comfort and support at a reasonable cost. Because the denture is fixed to the implant, it offers a very close experience to having real teeth, and you never have to worry about the dentures shifting when speaking, eating or kissing.
Pros of the All-on-four:
- Excellent denture stability at a reasonable cost
- You don’t have to remove your dentures
- Better promotion of jawbone health with four implants vs. two
- Great acrylic denture upgrade for a very natural-looking smile
- Only an option for acrylic dentures, which typically last about 10 years (Four implants are not enough to support the longer-lasting, but heavier zirconia implants)
- Patient must have good jawbone structure to support the implants
- Requires close attention to hygiene to clean under the fixed denture using special brushes.
- If an implant fails, you may need another procedure to restore good denture function
Consider it if: you would like a complete denture upgrade to a new acrylic implant-supported denture, but want to keep costs down as much as possible and don’t need a 30-year solution.
Option 3: Six to eight implants with zirconia dentures
The next step up in terms of denture support, preservation of jawbone health—and price, is placing up to 8 implants on each arch, which can then support a fixed denture or a removable overdenture. When we increase the number of implants, we can then consider a zirconia denture, which is heavier than acrylic, but lasts longer and eliminates the issue of “acrylic mouth,” a funny taste that can develop with more porous acrylic dentures.
This is the most expensive option of the three, both because zirconia dentures cost more and there is more surgery time involved when placing more implants. However, the more implants you have, the more pressure you can keep on the jawbone, which is important to avoid deterioration of the jawbone and offers a superior sensation when biting and chewing.
Pros of 6+ implants and zirconia:
- Very durable option
- Denture still has support if one implant fails
- Option of acrylic dentures, or zirconia dentures to avoid “acrylic mouth”
- Can last up to 30 years
- Most expensive option, especially with top-quality layered zirconia dentures
- Zirconia dentures are heavier, and lower-level zirconia can look fake
- Expect to pay a premium for the best-looking, layered zirconia dentures
Consider it if: you want a premium, long-lasting option without the hygienic disadvantages of acrylic dentures.
Option 4: Semi-attached denture over an implanted bar
If you’ve been in traditional dentures for some time, you may have lost too much bone to get an aesthetically pleasing result with individual implants. In this case, we can place a bar-type device, made of milled titanium or another material, into the jawbone, which your denture can snap onto and fit securely over your gums. This fills out the mouth more naturally and avoids a gap between your dentures and gum line. This approach offers the feeling of eating with real teeth, without the dentures pressing directly onto your gums, and prevents further bone loss.
Pros of this option:
- Offers a more secure denture solution to patients with significant bone loss
- Good option for both zirconia and acrylic dentures
- Dentures can be removed for easier cleaning
- Restores a more natural-looking mouth shape
- Inserting the bar requires a more extensive surgery
- Costs vary widely depending on materials used
Consider it if: you have experienced too much bone loss to be a good candidate for dental implants.
Do I need new dentures? Let an experienced dentist help you decide
Figuring out if and when you want to switch from traditional to implant-supported dentures is entirely personal and best decided after talking to an experienced prosthodontist, or dentist who specializes in prosthetic dental procedures. It’s even worth visiting with a few providers—most offer low or no-cost evaluations, and each will have his or her own preferred approach, so talking to more than one specialist will help to ensure you learn about all your options.
If you’re in the Atlanta area, I invite you to come over to my office in Alpharetta and chat about your options to upgrade your dentures at a personal appointment. Please call 770-664-1244, or you can request your appointment online.